The Arsonist In All Of Us

Posted: March 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

Here’s a cut from my first book I’m working on. Possibly more to come!

Where the Lines Overlap” by Joshua Edmonds

Chapter: “The Arsonist in all of us


Have you ever had the feeling that you were just wasting away in the very place you stood? That rotting feeling within your inner being that compels you to ram a spoon into your eye socket? Yeah, we’ve all been there. Spending countless hours at that horrible place we all wish didn’t exist, contemplating your existence on the Earth (debating arson). Oh yes, you’re at work.

Before you panic at the realization that I know exactly what you’re thinking every moment you are in that God-forsaken place, let me give you a bit of a heads up on this whole deal. You work there, part-time or full-time, watching as the hours slowly calculate into dollar signs. At first, it’s mundane. You don’t really want to be there, but you understand that you have to be. Then the heat turns up a bit – a big project, a busy night on the floor, an important meeting. You feel the sweat begin to bead on your forehead. As goals and tasks begin to seem more and more impossible, you begin to wonder why you are doing this in the first place and whether or not this is really worth it. By the end of the day, whether or not you accomplish everything you set out to do, there’s still a deep rooted sense of hatred for the time you spend there. Sometimes you don’t even know why. Sometimes it isn’t even anger, it just turns to apathy. You just decide that this is so mundane, so stressful, or so draining that you don’t particularly care what you’re getting paid, you just want out!

Now, perhaps this *is* a little bit on the “extreme” side of thinking, but I hope you’re getting my point. Surely not everyone, and maybe not even most people, have the desire to burn down their office every time they step in the door. But everybody – and I do mean everybody – experiences that thought at some point that they just don’t like their work. It doesn’t appreciate them, and so they don’t want to appreciate it back. And we even, somewhere along the way through the agonizing and tedious tasks, the many hours of dedication, and the persistent attempts to climb our way up the ladder, forget that we actually put ourselves in that position in the first place. Then we begin wondering what possessed us to commit that fateful act of self-infliction. Why are we there in the first place??

We forgot that we are driven to accomplish something there. That job is vital to our ability to accomplish personal goals and reach happiness with our lives. And we forgot that our job is our social status to those who observe us from the outside looking in. That God-forsaken place that is only good for cutting your checks actually means a whole lot when you get down to it.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate working just as much as the next blue-blooded American. It’s a cultural past-time to despise the thing you do for a living. I just think that we as a society of people have forgotten about what it means to have true pride in ourselves and our work.

You see, back in “the day” there was this thing called, “pride.” “Pride” was the things you did, the work you produced, the family you raised, and the image you relayed to the world around you. And this “pride” was based in two aspects of a person’s work. Firstly, their work was the means by which they achieved their goals (assuming they had to work for what they had – it being earned rather than given). Secondly, what their work was and the way they worked were the two initial labels that the outside world had to place on them. That made “work” become an awfully necessary evil. It made who they were dependent on what they did and ho they did it.

The process involved you setting goals for yourself (which may have been raising a family, being a tradesman, going to University, ect. ect.), and then you chose a job or a trade to work in, and you sowed into it until you reached your goal. Regardless of what the goal was, your work was dependent on getting there. And the quality at which you worked was a reflection of how badly you wanted to achieve those goals, and how responsible you were about working for your future. It was a reflection of who you were as a person.

Now that I’ve put it in those terms, relate it to your world and see how right I am. I’ll take an example from my life to get you started: I used to work in a restaurant. No fine dining in sight – just rednecks chowing down on America’s version of Mexican food. Now, at this restaurant, the players in the rat race can easily be broken down into three categories of worker that I’m sure you can identify at your workplace as well.

The Angels: There are the ones who are there to make a living, want to excel into management, and clearly want to be the best. This is reflected by their survey scores from guests, and then by their scheduling at the store.

Just Passing Through: There are the ones who are there as a stepping stone to get somewhere else. Maybe they’re in school, in between jobs, or whatever. But they won’t be there for long, and they know it. Now, members of this second category may very well also be in the first category. But, generally, those in group number two don’t work *as* hard. They aren’t slackers by any means, but they just clearly have no desire to be the very best that they can be at this institution.

Why Bother?: These are the elite class who gripe, complain, and cause drama as they swim in the bottom of the barrel that they jumped into. No one else really wants to work with them, they don’t work their shifts, they complain when they get scheduled good shifts, and they’re just generally unpleasant to be around in the work setting. Sure, this group may be small in some places, and it may be big in others. But you know then when you see them.

Can you spot the stereotypes and labels here, children? It’s not hard to imagine that everyone that sees these distinctive workers automatically makes a judgment about them and formulates some type of opinion about them without even knowing their names.

That is why people created this concept of “pride.” They were identified to everyone around them by what they did and how they did it. This sense of pride allowed them to remember why they did what they did. They didn’t have to love it, they just had to remember that regardless of how they felt about what they did, it was necessary. Their future life, their goals, and their happiness was directly attached to their work. The concept of working for pay is not a new thing. Pay just hasn’t always been dollar bills and coins. The concept of “pay” is that you are given something you need for services rendered. Whether that “pay” was cashy money, or if it was 3 chickens and some tomatoes, it was something that sustained you. That means that if your dream was to just live your life and be happy, you needed those chickens. If you wanted to learn a trade to be able to stand on your own, you needed that apprenticeship. If you wanted to go on to University, you needed that money. Do you see the pattern? Money doesn’t make the world go round, work does. The fruits of labor never go sour.

So, fast forward a couple thousand years and you find spoilt-brat, snot-nosed Twenty-First Century. The whiny teenage sibling whose older brothers and sisters wish mom and dad never spawned. Any concept of pride is out the window. You have people like you and I instead. We march into work and all we can think about is that we are not out having fun with friends, or that we aren’t getting paid enough, or that this isn’t what we *want* to do so why bother. To be completely honest with you, I think that group number three from our thrilling example of worker-types (the “Why Bother?” group) is a recent creation. I’m sure that there were people like that in the past, but not a significant percentage of a generation (not just a society of people) worth representing. That is what makes this “Technology Age” so special – we’ve programmed good ole fashioned hard work into machines and decided that the pride isn’t enough to curb our discontentment. Our generation has become lazy.

I don’t think the entire generation is lazy, just most of it. Think about it – since the 1950s, technology has been advancing at the most rapid pace that humankind has ever seen. This has taken the need for true hard labor, whether physical or mental, and placed it in the hands of technology. The most critical and trying mathematics are done by supercomputers in Belgium, and 99% of construction jobs – big or small – are performed with machines that harness the strength of 1,000 men. That leaves the mundane tasks (mostly, I might add, could probably be performed by a Chimpanzee, given enough banana incentive) such as writing someone’s food order on a strip of paper and then punching it into a computer. Even the cooks who create these food orders have deep-fryers and microwaves to create dishes that would have taken 3-4 hours back just a hundred years ago.

Please understand that I’m not taking anything away from the jobs and tasks that people perform today. Working in the restaurant business has shown me that these tasks are not easy, and I know that I could never work at the pace or in the conditions that my very respectable cooks work under. My point is about the rationale and attitudes we have about these tasks.

I also don’t want you to think that this is an anti-technology rant. God bless the man who invented the microwave and enabled me to have a full lunch between school and work in less than 5 minutes. I’m even writing this all on a laptop. These technologies are the greatest that man has ever conceived.

My problem is that people have taken every bit of this for granted. With the dawning of the Technology Age came the dawning of apathy and laziness in a generation that is spoilt beyond imagination. When you complain about a 20 minute delay on your 4 hour flight form Atlanta to Denver – a trip that would have taken colonial settlers nearly 10 months to trek – you have crossed a line that we have forgotten about.

Personal fulfillment is based in our pride and in our accomplishments, and our pride and our accomplishments are based in our work. If we started treating our work with that sort of mindset, I think we would all take our work a little more seriously, and even appreciate it (a little bit).

To wrap this chapter up, understand that people have hated work since the dawn of time. If you recall back to the first chapters of the Bible, the concept of having to work was a *curse* to mankind. You’re not supposed to like it. And if you like what you do, that’s called a “hobby” – big difference. But also understand that work will always exist in society, and it was always slap those big fat labels on you. So next time you’re standing in the kitchen, or the office, or your warehouse, and you feel that tingle of discontentment in your bones, remember that where you are and what you do is a part of who you are. What you do determines who people think you are without even knowing you. And if you ever want to see that “PhD” next to your name, or want to see food on your table, or want to get to the next rung on that corporate ladder, you need this job. You don’t have to be the best at what you do, you just have to give it your best. Instill a bit of pride in what you do, remembering where it is taking you – remind yourself daily if you have to – and see if you can’t squeeze some fulfillment out of that place. At the very least, it’ll make the time between clocking in and clocking out go by a whole lot easier.


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